The Richard H. Driehaus Preservation Award was recently presented to the Harper Theater in Hyde Park by Landmarks Illinois, a statewide organization whose primary focus is the preservation of historic buildings and locations.
The 19th annual award ceremony recognized nine projects, organizations and individuals whose work represents excellence in historic preservation.
“This year’s winners of a Richard H. Driehaus Preservation Award demonstrate that preservation is not only a tool to rejuvenate a vacant building, which many of our award winners were, but a key revitalization strategy for business, government, and community purposes. Historic places are leading Illinois to a better future,” said Bonnie McDonald, president of Landmarks Illinois.
In 2008, the Harper Theater, located at 5234 S. Harper Ave. in Chicago, was added to the Landmarks Illinois’ Watch List as an imperiled Chicago property after it had remained vacant for more than 10 years. Originally built in 1914, the theater opened as a Vaudeville house, and was transformed into a movie theater in 1935.
The University of Chicago purchased the two-story theater and its adjoining building in 2002, and began the $13.2 million renovation and restoration process in 2011. PREMIER Design + Build Group LLC was approached to carry out the redevelopment project, which involved careful planning to preserve the original character and style of the building. The interior of the theater was gutted completely, allowing for four new theaters with 400 seats, an indoor café and a new staircase and elevator. Custom trim, molding and window frames were installed in keeping with the building’s antiquity. Restoration of the terra cotta exterior facade and tuck-pointing preserved the original integrity of the historic structure.
The project was finalized with new millwork, flooring and lighting and a replica of the original marquee. The restructured, adaptive re-use of interior space includes a 10,000-square-foot area for future office and conference use. The 100 year-old prairie style movie-house was given back to the community as a fully restored and functional piece of history.